23 Apr, 2024

Winter Wellness - Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever resource banner

It’s that time of year when the bugs start floating around, the kids catch it from school and pass it on to us. Wintertime is when our immunity can get hit by the flu and other bugs being passed around. We’ve put together a series of resources about Winter Wellness, to help you get through this season sickness-free. In this resource about winter wellness, we are covering the symptoms of rheumatic fever, treatment options, complications associated with the disease and how best to avoid it.

What is rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat (also known as strep throat) caused by a bacterial infection. Most sore throats get better after about 4 days, if symptoms persist you should go see your doctor. If your child has strep throat, they’ll be given antibiotics for 10 days or a one-off antibiotic injection. For some people, an untreated strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever. This can cause joint (elbow and knees), brain and heart swelling.

Is rheumatic fever serious?

The rates of rheumatic fever were on the decline between 2020-2022. There was a 57% decrease in hospitalisations for Pacific people in Counties Manukau. However, there has been a huge increase in 2023. This is why it’s important to take any throat infections seriously.

  • Pacific children aged between 4-19 years are at high risk of rheumatic fever.
  • If you live in any of these areas, you are at higher risk- Northland, Auckland, Rotorua, Taupo, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and the East Coast, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington or the Hutt Valley.

The symptoms of rheumatic fever may disappear on their own, but sometimes it can develop into rheumatic heart disease. This causes permanent damage to the heart which may require surgery. If your child has rheumatic fever, they will be given penicillin injections every 28 days for 10 years. This prevents any further attacks of complications from the bacteria.

Symptoms of rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever usually starts 1-5 weeks after your child has had strep throat. Your child may develop:

  • Sore and swollen joints
  • Joints may feel hot, or even sore
  • Ongoing fever that lasts a few days
  • Rash over the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles
  • Small lumps under the skin
  • Unusual jerky movements of hands, feet, tongue and face
  • If your child has any of these symptoms, take them to the doctor or nurse straight away.

How do I protect my child from rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat. The best way to protect your children is by having their sore throats checked by a doctor. Keep your home warm and dry. Having warm rooms and sleeping spaces means germs like strep throat are less likely to spread.

Where to get your child checked?

You can go to your regular doctor or nurse. You may have to pay a fee, you can call ahead to check in. Let the reception know that you have a child with a sore throat so they can respond quickly. Your child’s school may have a free sore throat checking programme. Contact the school to find out more. Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you have any urgent concerns.

Rheumatic fever during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your heart has to work 50% harder all day, every day. Rheumatic fever can cause complications during pregnancy, that’s why it’s important to:

  • have a heart check up before you become pregnant.
  • let your doctor or midwife know that you’ve had rheumatic fever

You may need extra monitoring during your pregnancy so it’s important to take the right steps to keep you and pepe safe!

Worried your child may have rheumatic fever?

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 or book a doctor appointment at The Fono We are here to care for your pepe and tamariki.

For this resource, we have gathered information from the following sources: